What You Need to Know about Gum Disease
If you’ve been diagnosed with gum disease or think you may have this condition, you’re not alone by any means. According to the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of adults in America are living with some form of gum disease. For those 65 and older, the number jumps to 70 percent.
Like most people who are suffering from this common condition or have a loved one who has been diagnosed with it, you probably have several questions. Foothills Family Dentistry is here to answer them. Read on to learn more about gum disease, treatment options, and what to expect after being diagnosed with it among other aspects.
What Is Gum Disease?
Also known as periodontitis, gum disease is a condition that affects the gums, jawbones, and teeth. It’s caused by bacteria. We all naturally have bacteria in our mouths. When we eat and drink, the number of bacteria multiply. In most cases, brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash on a regular basis help keep those bacteria in check, but with periodontitis, that’s not necessarily the case.
For those who suffer from gum disease, the gum tissue loosens and pulls away from the teeth. This causes pockets to form in the gums where bacteria can hide, thrive, and multiply even further. When this happens, they can cause serious infections. Over time, they can also lead to extensive damage to the gums, jawbones, and teeth.
What Are the Four Stages of Periodontal Disease?
Gum disease starts off on a small scale with plaque buildup on the teeth. From there, it progresses if not treated promptly. It’ll gradually grow worse until it’s out of control. Periodontal disease occurs in four stages.
Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease. It consists of mild inflammation of the gums caused by plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth due to a combination of food particles, saliva, and other factors. Tartar is a hardened form of plaque. Bacteria adhere to the film and work their way under the gum line where they can cause inflammation and infections.
Reports from the medical sector indicate that nearly everyone develops gingivitis at some point though most people don’t know they have it. Symptoms of gingivitis include occasional redness and mild swelling of the gums. You might notice your gums bleeding when you brush or floss. Many people mistake these symptoms for signs of brushing too hard or flossing too vigorously, so they simply dismiss them. Regular brushing and professional cleanings can help remedy gingivitis and prevent it from getting worse.
Mild Periodontal Disease
If gingivitis isn’t caught early enough and treated promptly, it can progress to mild periodontal disease. This is the stage at which bone loss begins to occur. Bacteria that gather in pockets in the gums become stronger and begin to attack bone tissue more aggressively. At this point, basic dental hygiene can no longer stop the bacteria from spreading and causing more damage.
Moderate Periodontal Disease
Matters become more dangerous when gum disease advances to moderate periodontal disease. Greater bone loss occurs, and the gums are likely to bleed more during brushing and flossing. Inflammation may become more noticeable and painful, and you might experience frequent bouts of bad breath. During this stage, bacteria can move beyond the gums and jawbones, infiltrating the bloodstream and causing problems elsewhere in the body.
Advanced Periodontal Disease
Advanced periodontal disease is the fourth and worst phase of gum disease. It often involves loosening and loss of the teeth because the gums and jawbones are so severely damaged, they can no longer hold the teeth in place. Before the teeth fall out, they may become more sensitive to heat and cold, and chewing may become much more painful. Gum tissue will also become more severely infected and may ooze pus.
What Is the Best Treatment for Gum Disease?
Gum disease treatments vary based on how far the condition has progressed. In the earliest stages where little or no permanent damage has occurred, scaling and root planing can help stop gum disease in its tracks. Scaling is the process of scraping away plaque and tartar buildup using traditional instruments, ultrasonic equipment, or lasers. Root planing entails smoothing the roots of the teeth to help prevent buildup and bacteria from adhering to the teeth.
Antibiotics can also be used to slow the advancement of gum disease and heal any infections bacteria may have caused. Antibiotic gels can be applied to the gums and worked into pockets where bacteria tend to hide. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed as well to further heal infections and eliminate bacteria that have invaded the body.
In the more advanced stages of gum disease, more invasive and aggressive treatments may be required. Periodontists may make incisions in the gums to allow them to perform deeper scaling and root planing procedures than they’d normally be able to do. They often graft soft tissue from the roof of the mouth or other areas to the gums to replace lost gum tissue and make the gums stronger.
Another effective treatment for gum disease is bone grafting. In this procedure, periodontists replace lost jawbone tissue with that from other bones in your body or use synthetic materials to encourage bone regrowth. Protein-rich gels and biocompatible fabrics may also be applied to the gums to promote healing and tissue regeneration.
Can Gum Disease Be Cured?
In the earliest stage, gum disease can be cured. Beyond that, it can’t. That being said, it can be managed, and progression can be prevented with the treatments we mentioned above.
How to Prepare for a Gum Disease Treatment
Preparation for gum disease treatments varies by procedure. In general, you may need to take an oral antibiotic for a couple of weeks before your treatment appointment. This helps eliminate any bacteria and infections that could cause problems during treatment and prolong the healing process.
You might also be asked to avoid taking blood thinners and painkillers that contain aspirin before the procedure. Those medications can cause excessive bleeding. Avoiding alcohol and nicotine for at least 24 hours before the treatment may be required as well. It’s also important to arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
What to Expect After Gum Disease Treatment
It’s normal to experience a certain amount of discomfort and bleeding after a gum disease treatment especially if your treatment involved surgery. For the most part, recovery and post-operative care are similar to those for tooth extractions. You’ll probably need to be careful when brushing your teeth or avoid brushing and flossing in the affected areas until the gums have healed.
You may need to eat only soft foods after the procedure as well. These include soups, Jell-O, mashed potatoes, and yogurt. Your periodontist may require you to continue taking antibiotics for a couple of weeks after the procedure to further reduce the risk of infections. You may also be given a special type of mouthwash or anti-inflammatory medications to help foster healing.
Keeping Your Teeth, Gums, and Jawbones Healthy
Gum disease is a common condition, so if you’ve been diagnosed with it, you’re certainly not alone. Brushing and flossing regularly at home can help prevent it or, at the very least, keep it from progressing. Keeping up with twice-annual dental checkups and cleanings is also essential for catching gum disease early and reversing it while doing so is still possible.
Even advanced stages of gum disease are treatable though treatment becomes more invasive as the condition progresses. Several treatments are available ranging from scaling and planing to replacing lost gum and jawbone tissue. While periodontal disease can’t be cured in its advanced stages, it can be managed, and the damage it causes can be mitigated.